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GOP under mounting pressure to strike virus deal quickly

Republican lawmakers faced with slipping poll numbers and economic indicators acknowledge they are under pressure to reach a quick deal with Democrats on a new coronavirus package.  

Armed with more leverage, Democrats will likely not agree to any deal unless it is closer to the $3.4 trillion bill the House passed in May. Republican officials don’t see any advantages to drawing the battle out.

GOP senators say there are several significant factors that weigh in favor of reaching a deal soon. They include the expiration of the $600-a-week federal enhancement to state unemployment benefits, the expiration of the federal moratorium on evictions, the recent wave of new coronavirus infections in Sun Belt and Midwestern states, the fast-approaching start of the school year, and a wave of potential small-business closures predicted for the weeks ahead.

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“It has to be timely,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFlorida Republicans close ranks with Trump after Capitol siege Confirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (R-Fla.) of the timeline for passing a measure.

“The goal is to get it done quickly,” he said, adding that “it takes time to deploy money for the testing” and noting that the last round of federal supplemental unemployment benefits are being sent this week.
“Everyone here should feel pressure because this is a rolling economic emergency we’re facing. Every day that goes by with headlines about how far apart we are injects negativity that has an economic consequence,” added Rubio, who chairs the Small Business Committee.

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 Top GOP senators acknowledge Biden as president-elect after Electoral College vote MORE (N.C.), one of the chamber’s most vulnerable Republican incumbents, said he wants a deal concluded soon so that constituents don’t see a break in enhanced unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.

“I think we want to get something fairly soon so we have continuity of UI benefits in particular,” he said.

It remains unclear if Congress can strike an agreement by the end of next week, when the Senate is scheduled to adjourn for its August recess.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (R-Utah) also warned Tuesday about the lapse of enhanced unemployment benefits.

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“I’d like to see us move on unemployment as soon as possible. It would be nice if we could get everything at the same time, but I really do not want to have people lose their supplemental unemployment benefit, whatever that number might be,” he said.

Some Republican lawmakers have floated the possibility of moving a short-term extension of the federal addition to state unemployment benefits, although at a lower number than the $600-a-week boost provided by the CARES Act, the initial virus bill that was signed into law earlier this year.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMissouri woman seen with Pelosi sign charged in connection with Capitol riots Boebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report Revising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices MORE (D-Calif.), however, on Monday dismissed that idea, telling reporters: “Forget it.”

Republican senators don’t want to undercut their negotiating position but privately acknowledge it’s in their interest to cut a deal with Democrats quickly.

“I do want to get something done. The challenges people are facing is now and it’s important that we do our efforts quickly,” said a GOP senator who requested anonymity to comment on the pressure on Republicans to clinch a deal in the next week or two.

The senator cited the expiring boost to unemployment benefits as a problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible.

“The [unemployment insurance] issue is one of the pieces of leverage that forces Congress to work more quickly,” the lawmaker said.

Republicans are well aware that President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media MORE’s chances of winning reelection, and their chances of keeping the majority, will depend largely on public perceptions of the strength of the economy and how well the president has responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump’s job approval rating is hovering around 40 percent in recent polls and the approval rating of his performance in handling the pandemic was 32 percent in a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

Weighed down by Trump’s weak numbers, GOP incumbents are trailing or in dead-heat races in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana and North Carolina.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.) noted Tuesday that the start of the new school year is fast approaching and that it will likely take the Department of Education and states about a month to fully implement federal funding to make classrooms and school schedules safer.

“The president and Senate Republicans have recommended $105 billion for back to school and back to college,” he said. “In the South, school is beginning right away and the whole purpose of this funding is to make sure the schools can open safely with as many children physically present as possible. So the sooner the better.”

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBoebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report Urgency mounts for new voting rights bill Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday called on negotiators to focus on core issues related to responding to the pandemic and to jettison provisions that are not really relevant and are likely to spark political controversy and slow down the talks.

The GOP leader told reporters that he opposes “nongermane” amendments such as the $1.75 billion in funding for a new FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, which the administration asked to be included in a joint White House-Senate Republican relief bill.

“I am opposed to nongermane amendments, whether it’s funding for the FBI building or, for example, in the House bill, whether it’s a tax cut for high-income earners in blue states,” McConnell said.

“When we get to the end of the process, I would hope all of the non-COVID-related measures are out, no matter what bill they were in at the start,” he added.

Democrats on Monday seized on the inclusion of money for refurbishing the FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue in the GOP opening proposal as an attempt by Trump to protect the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue from the possibility that a new luxury hotel might move into the spot currently occupied by the FBI.

The problem GOP lawmakers face is that Democrats will demand a high price for passing a bill that could be crucial to Trump’s chances of winning reelection and Senate GOP hopes of saving endangered incumbents.

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While Republicans want to cap the next relief bill at $1 trillion, Democrats are calling for $3.4 trillion in new stimulus, with $1 trillion set aside just for cash-strapped state and local governments. Conservatives in the Senate are adamantly against adding trillions more to the exploding deficit.

After receiving a briefing from Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinTreasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' Treasury Department sanctions inner circle of Russian agent Derkach for election interference Sanders defends push to impeach Trump: Insurrection won't be tolerated MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsAgency official says Capitol riot hit close to home for former Transportation secretary Chao Republicans wrestle over removing Trump Pressure grows on Trump to leave MORE during a Senate GOP lunch meeting, Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Democratic super PAC targets Hawley, Cruz in new ad blitz Hotel cancels Hawley fundraiser after Capitol riot: 'We are horrified' MORE (R-Mo.) told reporters that the cost of the relief bill is likely to swell significantly. 

“This is not going to be the bill. The chief of staff was just talking about [how] they’re going to negotiate with Pelosi,” he said, predicting the final version of the legislation will bear little resemblance to the joint proposal put together last week by White House and Senate GOP negotiators.

On Tuesday evening, Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseSasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Democratic super PAC targets Hawley, Cruz in new ad blitz Hotel cancels Hawley fundraiser after Capitol riot: 'We are horrified' MORE (R-Neb.) ripped the Trump administration in a statement: “We have two big government Democrats — Secretary Mnuchin on behalf of the Trump administration and Speaker Pelosi on behalf of binge-spending politicians everywhere —  playing gross games with your kids’ money.”

Another significant obstacle to a quick deal is McConnell’s demand that new legislation include a five-year liability shield to protect businesses, schools, colleges, churches and other organizations from coronavirus-related litigation.

He reiterated his position Tuesday.

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“There is no chance, zero chance America can get back to normal without … liability protection and no bill will be put on the Senate floor that does not include it,” he said.

“Today we had sort of a message from the Senate side that seems to me that Sen. McConnell really doesn’t want to get an agreement made,” Pelosi said, referencing the GOP leader’s insistence on a liability shield.

“Leader McConnell said that his entire liability provision would have to be — without negotiation — part of any bill that’s going to pass. That is no way to negotiate,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Democrats looking to speed through Senate impeachment trial MORE (N.Y.).